When this season started, what would you have bet if I told you that the Los Angeles Kings would not only start off the season on fire but continue to play at a level and threaten for the Western Conference lead nearly halfway through the season?
Yeah, I wouldn't have taken that bet either.
Like Brad G wrote about earlier this week, the Dallas Stars are frustrating for sure, but they've been able to at least hold their ground in the West. Not playing for three days could hurt a bit as they've been passed up by Detroit and Phoenix since Saturday night, but the good news is that at least the Stars have some games in hand on those above them in the standings.
After the jump, we'll take a look at the teams around the Pacific...
I'm just going to say this; the Dallas Stars have been frustrating as hell to watch all season long, and we've been mired in the depressed 'how good are they really' attitude for a couple of weeks now...but they are still just seven points out of 1st in the West, with at least two games in hand. A good winning streak, some luck and for goodness sakes some head-to-head wins against the Kings and Sharks and our tune could drastically change fairly soon.
The San Jose Sharks; 1st in the Pacific, 1st in the West:
The Sharks are just 4-3-3 in their past ten games, but have five straight losses including three in overtime or the shootout. From Fear The Fin:
In general I think it's good practice to avoid falling back on the venerable criticism of "lacking effort" when examining a losing streak as it may not always apply, but if it's good enough for the Captain then I guess it's good enough for me. Whether or not we're dealing with the kickback of a heavy road schedule to start the year or a case of subconsciously resting on the laurels of that early season success, it's hard to assert and defend the notion that San Jose has come out to play for sixty minutes a night. There's been waves of good, and waves of opposing teams imposing themselves on the Sharks for extended chunks of time-- if we consider this team one of the theoretical top-dogs in the Western Conference (which we obviously do), that's not a bright spot.
Joe Thornton is a world-class player, but his decision making with a minute remaining against Phoenix stuck out as a microcosm of the Sharks current ailments. Carrying the puck into the offensive zone he pulls up at the blueline, only to have the Phoenix defenseman do what any player worth a grain of salt would do-- pressure the puck carrier. Vulcanized rubber gets coughed up, cleared, and the Sharks don't have another chance the rest of the game. As much as the desire to hedge bets and state it's the product of a "puck-possesion" style, the fact of the matter is Thornton has to get that puck deep so the Sharks can use the extra man (Greiss was pulled around the 1:15 mark) to load up on bodies down low and win a puck battle. San Jose will never be able to emulate Detroit, at least with their current makeup of North American players. There's not nearly enough individual creativity on the roster to pull that style of play off. When the wins aren't coming you have to go back to the basics of a North-South game by chipping it in and engaging physically.
Next 5 Games
|Anaheim||Thu 12/17||9:30 PM CST|
|@ Dallas||Mon 12/21||7:30 PM CST|
|@ Chicago||Tue 12/22||7:00 PM CST|
|Anaheim||Sat 12/26||9:30 PM CST|
|Phoenix||Mon 12/28||9:30 PM CST|
Last 5 Games
|@ Phoenix||Sat 12/12||L 1 - 2|
|Dallas||Fri 12/11||SO - L 2 - 3|
|Los Angeles||Wed 12/09||OT - L 4 - 5|
|Calgary||Sat 12/05||L 1 - 2|
|St. Louis||Thu 12/03||SO - L 2 - 3|
San Jose Sharks Injuries
The Los Angeles Kings; 2nd in the Pacific, 4th in the West:
The Kings briefly held the lead in the West over the weekend before falling last night to Vancouver. Connie at A Queen Among Kings had this to say:
The Kings are currently sitting at the top of the Pacific Division and, more importantly, top of the Western Conference. This is a rare feeling for me that hasn't really set in. I can't remember the last time I felt this feeling of bliss. That being said, I will definitely loathe the day when the Kings are no longer at the top, but for now I am happy as a clam about how the Kings are performing game in, game out.
They play tonight against the Vancouver Canucks, tomorrow veresus the Edmonton Oilers, and the Calgary Flames are up on Thursday. Any evening of games could surely alter the standings, and these next three will definitely be a big test for the Kings in all aspects of their physical and mental play since they will not face another team until after Christmas on Saturday, December 26th against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Next 5 Games
|@ Edmonton||Tue 12/15||8:30 PM CST|
|@ Calgary||Thu 12/17||8:30 PM CST|
|@ Phoenix||Sat 12/26||8:00 PM CST|
|Minnesota||Mon 12/28||9:30 PM CST|
|@ Calgary||Wed 12/30||8:30 PM CST|
Last 5 Games
|@ Vancouver||Mon 12/14||L 1 - 3|
|Dallas||Sat 12/12||SO - W 3 - 2|
|Phoenix||Thu 12/10||SO - W 3 - 2|
|@ San Jose||Wed 12/09||OT - W 5 - 4|
|Calgary||Mon 12/07||W 2 - 1|
Los Angeles Kings Injuries
The Phoenix Coyotes; 3rd in the Pacific, 7th in the West:
The Coyotes have gained points in seven of their last eight games and seem to have rebounded from a slight bump in the road in early November. On top of that, it appears that the Coyotes might actually have a real buyer. Five For Howling breaks down the myths surrounding Ice Edge:
MYTH: Ice Edge is proving that hockey will not work in Arizona by needing to play games in Saskatoon.
FACT: Ice Edge is indeed hoping to play up to five regular season home games in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, but not for the long term. In fact, the proposed Saskatoon games are a short-term "subsidy," as Ice Edge's Anthony LeBlanc described it, to buttress the team's bottom line while the ownership group assesses the team's financial outlook and rectifies the mess left over from the previous administration. Certainly, if the plan was to play five "home" games in Saskatoon or another Canadian city in perpetuity, it would be a different story. But IEH principals are adamant that their idea for Saskatoon is intended to be a win-win for everyone - bringing NHL hockey to a hockey-mad Canadian city that is simply too small for an NHL franchise, and pumping operating capital to help solidify the franchise's finances in the short term.
MYTH: Ice Edge's Anthony LeBlanc is planning to flip the franchise in a couple of years and relocate it to Canada.
FACT: Ice Edge is planning to assume the original lease with Glendale established when the team moved from downtown Phoenix - a 30-year lease that has 26 years remaining on the term. Ice Edge does plan to negotiate with the city to make the lease conditions more favorable financially to the franchise, but the lease duration has never been part of those negotiations.
Part of the reason why this myth has been spread is that LeBlanc previously worked for Research in Motion (RIMM), the Blackberry-manufacturing corporation whose CEO is Jim Balsillie, the man who attempted to purchase and move the Coyotes to Hamilton, Ontario. LeBlanc spent 8 years at RIMM as the Vice President of Global Sales. Some pundits and fans believe that LeBlanc is keen on finishing the job his former boss started - some of the more tinfoil-hatted theorists believe that Balsillie is, in fact, one of Ice Edge's silent investors. However, LeBlanc has been very public in his statements that his connections to RIMM are coincidental with regards to his interest in the Coyotes. Common sense would further indicate that it would be a true measure of his business acumen - and a jab at his old boss - if he were to be a part of a successful Coyotes salvage when Balsillie claimed that the team could not be saved.
Next 5 Games
|@ Toronto||Wed 12/16||6:30 PM CST|
|@ Columbus||Thu 12/17||6:00 PM CST|
|@ Anaheim||Sat 12/19||3:00 PM CST|
|Columbus||Mon 12/21||8:00 PM CST|
|Anaheim||Wed 12/23||8:00 PM CST|
Last 5 Games
|@ Detroit||Mon 12/14||L 2 - 3|
|San Jose||Sat 12/12||W 2 - 1|
|@ Los Angeles||Thu 12/10||SO - L 2 - 3|
|Minnesota||Mon 12/07||W 2 - 0|
|Ottawa||Sat 12/05||W 3 - 2|
Phoenix Coyotes Injuries
Out (IR / Out / Suspended / Physically unvailable)
|Player||Injury Type||Injury Date|
The Anaheim Ducks; 5th in the Pacific, 15th in the West:
The Ducks have just two wins in their past eight games, but have at least secured points in their last five games. One of their wins was over the Stars and it seems as if Anaheim is starting to gain some steam, led by none other than Dan Sexton:
Dan Sexton's NHL career is off to an eye-popping start. With goals in his last three games, the half-pint forward is serving crow to his naysayers, including your blogger (who short sold Sexton's ability to perform in a physical, defensive system but should have short sold Murray's desire to maintain a defensive system in the first place).
Big Sexy is doing something truly special for the Ducks, but eventually Teemu Selanne will come back. At that point, Sexton may have to play on a line with more physical responsibility, an assignment that usually defeats Anaheim's small forwards (Shannon, Ebbett) and even some regular-sized ones (Christensen). Daniel, is Dan Sexton playing well enough to stay in the lineup, maybe even the Top 6, when Teemu Selanne comes back from injury?
Next 5 Games
|@ Vancouver||Wed 12/16||9:00 PM CST|
|@ San Jose||Thu 12/17||9:30 PM CST|
|Phoenix||Sat 12/19||3:00 PM CST|
|@ Colorado||Tue 12/22||9:00 PM CST|
|@ Phoenix||Wed 12/23||8:00 PM CST|
Last 5 Games
|@ Columbus||Sat 12/12||W 3 - 1|
|@ Detroit||Fri 12/11||OT - L 2 - 3|
|Dallas||Tue 12/08||OT - W 4 - 3|
|Ottawa||Sun 12/06||SO - L 3 - 4|
|@ Minnesota||Fri 12/04||SO - L 4 - 5|